By Chris Emma–
DETROIT, Mich. (CBS) — Given the rarest of opportunities, Matt Barkley has nothing yet to regret.
Quarterbacks can become journeymen quickly in this league, diminishing from collegiate fame to NFL roster fodder. A star at Southern Cal, Barkley was in jeopardy of just that — his chance nearly gone. Now, he’s proving worthy with the Bears.
Certainly don’t blame the Bears’ 10th loss of the season — Sunday’s 20-17 defeat in Detroit — on the starting quarterback. Barkley did everything he could to give his team a chance at victory, down to the final pass.
Had Josh Bellamy hauled in a strike from Barkley on fourth-and-forever, the Bears could’ve tied the game with a field goal. If two brutal holding penalties weren’t flagged, they would’ve been in position to win the game, led by Barkley’s efforts.
Instead, Barkley again had to stand before the media and speak on behalf of his teammates’ shortcomings. It’s not fair to a player who should’ve had Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller as his targets.
To Barkley’s credit, he’s put the Bears in position to win in each of his first three NFL starts.
“The young man has continued to impress me,” Bears coach John Fox said.
Barkley showed a veteran’s poise in making his first career road start. He finished 20-of-32 for 212 yards and a touchdown, again making big throws and minimizing mistakes. If not for self-inflicted wounds by the Bears, he could’ve been their hero.
That touchdown pass was a beauty, a perfect strike to Cam Meredith on a route down the sidelines. He hit him in stride.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford strengthened his MVP case by leading the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, his team’s eighth comeback in nine victories. Barkley and the Bears were offered the chance to respond and win. They could’ve spoiled Detroit’s day.
Barkley emerged in the huddle ready to lead the Bears.
“I was just telling myself, ‘Just stay alive, give us a chance,'” Barkley said.
From there, Barkley put the ball in the right place. Teammates didn’t deliver.
“That kind of defines the whole game,” Barkley said.
From high atop Ford Field, the Bears’ brass watched as Barkley paced the offense. Much of their focus now is on the offseason, one in which crucial decisions will be made. The quarterback position is likely changing, with starter Jay Cutler expected to be let go.
Here is Barkley — the fourth-string quarterback signed to the practice squad prior to Week 1 — leading the Bears in their final six games. He got the opportunity so many could’ve hoped for, in the midst of an evaluation to the franchise’s future at quarterback.
At the least, Barkley deserves the chance to be considered for the future. He certainly deserves better from Bears teammates who keep letting him down.
Barkley may not be the next Tom Brady coming off the bench, but the Bears have a chance to see what his ceiling could be.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” Fox said. “He wasn’t rattled by the road noise, crowd noise. His teammates respond to him well, and he is an accurate passer. He hangs in there and made throws not everybody can.”
Three games remain in Barkley’s audition with the Bears. It still seems most likely that the team will enter 2017 with a quarterback from the draft, plus a veteran like Brian Hoyer for the room. Barkley has proved he’s worthy of consideration. If not in Chicago, he could get a chance elsewhere.
Opportunities like these don’t come often for quarterbacks. Barkley is making the most of it. Unfortunately, he deserves better from the Bears.